- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

The indoors has moved outside in many Washington-area homes. The patio — the paved extension of a house at the side or rear — often does double duty as kitchen, dining room and living room open to the sky.

Many people who embrace the trend are doing so for the sake of informality and the chance to relax out of doors in a natural setting.

“We like parties, and we have nine grandchildren,” says Lynn Nelson of Vienna, explaining why she and her husband, Jerry, recently bought a Jenn-Air outdoor cooking island from Barbecues Galore in Fairfax. Another incentive, she notes, was getting a large chunk of money back from this year’s income tax bill.



“Now we have to relearn how to cook because the grill is so powerful,” she says of the 10-foot-long self-contained unit that includes a grill, side burner and refrigerator. The model they chose has stucco sides with a ceramic tile top around the stainless-steel cooking units. It sits on their backyard cement patio by the swimming pool.

The cost for an outdoor island varies according to a customer’s wants and needs. Barbecues Galore sells a 4-foot-long three-burner cooking island for $1,099, but the average price is around $6,400. Costs can go as high as $25,000, depending on the type of equipment and decorative accessories included. Cooking gas is supplied either by a separate gas line or a propane tank.

Backyard & Beyond, a Viking appliance distributor in Rockville, recently sold a 20-foot island complete with flagstone top counters, a warming drawer and a built-in wok, in addition to the more conventional heating and cooling elements.

The islands also are sold in modular units at stores such as Park Place on Wisconsin Avenue NW where owner Phil Mitchell says no extra electrical connections are needed since the components come ready to plug into an extension cord.

“In the past, you would hire a mason to install an outdoor kitchen for several thousands of dollars,” he says. “What we talk about today is portable. You can take it with you.”

“Basically, people today can vacation in their own back yard, enjoying the same comfort as the inside,” Mr. Mitchell says. “It is part of the extension of the nest. The outdoor environment has become the biggest room in the house.”

Portable heating and cooking units are available for large and small patio spaces as well. Home Depot sells a portable charbroil electric patio grill, and Target has an all-steel portable outdoor fireplace — just one of many outdoor hearths available in today’s market. Increasingly, homeowners incorporate a fireplace into their outdoor kitchen or living room setting, alongside the barbecue, bar and even a pizza oven if they so desire.

In part, the trend rests with manufacturers that have introduced a great range of suitable products that can withstand the elements: treated and synthetic fabrics and materials for coverings and decor; aluminum and stainless steel for cooking, heating and cooling units; and resilient woods such as teak, cypress and cedar for furniture.

“The nice thing about these units is that you can cook on them year-round,” says Deborah Wiener of Designing Solutions in Silver Spring. “Using them 12 months a year helps keep smells and dirt outside.”

She praises the reliance on teak and other ecologically grown hardwoods that are pressure treated to withstand harsh weather. Many outdoor fabrics are made to repel liquids and resist mildew. Another practical consideration for anyone fond of outdoor living is the use of outdoor mosquito magnets to repel this season’s most prevalent pests.

Having a theme for terrace decor is increasingly popular. Jill Dowling and her husband, Collin Green, chose an abstract hanging metal sculpture and multi-colored tile tables from Alvear Studio at 705 Eighth St. SE to blend into their Asian-styled Capitol Hill granite and bluestone patio. They thought they could design the 17-by-40-foot space themselves, but soon relented and found a professional to do the job. Later, they added an outdoor speaker system. The furniture is minimal: two wood dining chairs from Indonesia and a rounded teak wood bench. A small Buddha sculpture rests underneath a tree. A fountain and pond were put into a raised stone area.

“People are using the outdoors more as an extension of their home and making the space as individualized as their interior,” says Sharon Jaffe Dan, editor of Home & Design magazine, who cites water elements as another popular trend adding to the aesthetics of the patio space.

“It [also] can help eliminate background noise from a neighbor’s power mower,” she says.

Water elements frequently are self-contained and portable. Alvear also sells a great deal of outdoor sculpture, including a circulating water sculpture in iron that can be attached to a wall.

Natural stone for the patio floor is coming into vogue, too, says landscape designer Joe Wasson. Also growing in popularity is the use of patio heaters similar to those found in outdoor cafes in Europe, according to Leslie Wheeler, communication director for the Arlington-based Hearth Patio & Barbecue Association.

“People are trying to move the indoors outdoors and the outdoors indoors,” says Jason Feldman, Home Depot’s director for style, innovation and design, who breaks down the frenzy of activity into four categories: landscaping, furniture, accessories and cooking utensils. Accessories can be anything from a hot tub to a birdbath, both of which can be adapted to small spaces. He says sling-back furniture — the casual aluminum frame with a mesh or canvas over the frame — still is the most prominent, but he doesn’t count out sets of wrought iron.

The latter remain popular, he feels, because of their durability, and the traditional look and feel that almost resembles living room furniture. By contrast, all-season wicker made from an all-resin material is more reminiscent of temporary life on a vacation.

Decorative accessories found in some of the larger home-supply stores include rechargeable patio lanterns, a weather-resistant outdoor clock and thermometer, festive outdoor Christmas tree lights that go under an umbrella and even outdoor ceiling fans.

Shabby chic is no longer fashionable, says Georgetown shop owner Deborah Gore Dean, who deals almost exclusively with a high-end clientele: “None of that rusty-crusty look with paint peeling off the furniture.” She sees more bronze and classic teak these days. “They are timeless, and you never need to change the furniture because you can always change the cushions,” she says. She goes out of her way to praise the cushions found at Target.

Changing cushion covers is easy, too, when such reputable old-line firms such as Scalamandre have outdoor fabric lines, she says. She also carries her own line of outdoor fabrics.

Ms. Dean offers words of caution about scale when choosing furniture: “The old adage is to always go much bigger than smaller outside because the sky is your ceiling.”

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